Winter wonderland holiday destination: Zermatt, Switzerland
A Swiss-style holiday in the winter wonderland that is Zermatt, located in the shadow of the mighty Matterhorn.
- Getting there
- Zermatt, Switzerland by night
- Admiring the Matterhorn
- Exploring Zermatt
- A simple end to a great day
Our train climbs ever higher up the mountain. At one point, we have to stop and change to another train, one with cogs on the wheels to give it better grip as it climbs up the steep slope. As we get closer to our destination, Zermatt, it becomes more and more apparent that we are in ski country. The landscape changes from dry, barren trees to lush evergreens sprinkled with snow; passengers dressed in elegant winter coats get off the train, to be replaced by people in ski jackets, toting skis and snowboards on their backs. It is the weekend and the excitement in the air is palpable as everyone looks forward to a weekend in the snow.
Zermatt, Switzerland by night
Located in the shadow of the famous Matterhorn mountain which is forever immortalized on Toblerone bars as the symbol of Switzerland, Zermatt is one of Switzerland’s better-known ski resorts. Not only does the ski resort town boast Europe’s longest ski run, the 13km Klein Matterhorn to Zermatt trail, it also lays proud claim to the most summer ski trails of any alpine ski resort.
It is dark by the time we arrive in town. With excellent directions provided by the hotel, we manage to find the Hotel Rhodania with little trouble. Located on a quiet sidestreet, the hotel is a long 15-minute trek from the train station. The heavy packs on our back help us to stay warm in the -20C air.
My partner and I only have one full day to spend in Zermatt. Incredibly pressed for time and on a frugal backpacker’s budget (both money and clothes-wise), we decide to forgo the skiing with much regret and instead concentrate on enjoying the snow and the majestic Matterhorn.
Admiring the Matterhorn
After a filling buffet breakfast in the hotel, we take the train up to Gornergrat. At 3089 meters above sea level, Gornergrat provides unparalleled views of the 4478 meter-high Matterhorn, 28 other peaks, and the second longest glacier in the Alps. The air is crisp and cold, this high up, especially when the sun hides behind the clouds. We climb up to the highest viewing platform, where the Matterhorn is at first hidden behind a veil of mist, but gradually appears in all its glory, seemingly close enough to touch. Lost in the beauty, we don’t realize that it is -25C up on the mountain.
Eventually, we take the train back down, gazing enviously at all the skiers who are carving their way down the mountain. Back in Zermatt at the relatively low elevation of 1,620 meters, the temperatures are still uncomfortably below freezing so the first priority of the day is a hot lunch. Stomachs satisfied and suitably warm, we head out to explore Zermatt and to frolic in the snow.
It’s not all about the skiing here in this winter wonderland. The town is small and picturesque. Swiss chalets huddling together for protection along the narrow lanes. A pretty, frozen river runs through the town. Horse drawn carriages and dog-drawn sleds add to the old world atmosphere and charm of Zermatt.
A simple end to a great day
At night we sample raclette for dinner. The Swiss dish’s description is tantalizing – a round, semi-firm cow’s milk cheese melted in front of a fire and served with potatoes, gherkins, pickled onions, and sometimes, dried meat. When the dish arrives, diner’s remorse kicks in – that’s all we’re having for dinner? Nevertheless, it is warm, delicious and surprisingly filling; the perfect end to a great day.